Successful innovators don’t delegate creative work. They do it themselves!
The ability to innovate is key to business success. It all starts with research, or “discovery activities” as HBR calls it : associating, questioning, observing, experimenting, and networking. They claim that successful innovators spend more than 50% of their time on discovery activities during which they engage both sides of the brain. It is more than the cognitive skill of being right-brained. You need to leverage both right AND left side of the brain.
Associating is the ability to successfully connect seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas from different fields. New ideas blossom at the intersections of diverse fields. Fresh inputs trigger new associations. As Steve Jobs has frequently observed, “Creativity is connecting things.” Associating is like a mental muscle that can grow stronger by using the other discovery skills. As innovators engage in those behaviors, they build their ability to generate ideas that can be recombined in new ways. The more frequently people attempt to understand, categorize, and store new knowledge, the more easily their brains will naturally and consistently make, store, and recombine associations.
Innovators constantly ask questions that challenge common wisdom. “The important and difficult job is never to find the right answers, it is to find the right question”.
Ask “Why?” and “Why not?” and “What if?”
Innovative entrepreneurs are likely to challenge assumptions. Innovative entrepreneurs like to play devil’s advocate. “My learning process has always been about disagreeing with what I’m being told and taking the opposite position, and pushing others to really justify themselves,” Pierre Omidyar said. “I remember it was very frustrating for the other kids when I would do this.” Asking oneself, or others, to imagine a completely different alternative can lead to truly original insights.
Discovery-driven executives produce uncommon business ideas by scrutinizing common phenomena, particularly the behavior of potential customers. In observing others, they act like anthropologists and social scientists. “Often the surprises that lead to new business ideas come from watching other people work and live their normal lives”. Innovators carefully, intentionally, and consistently look out for small behavioral details—in the activities of customers, suppliers, and other companies—in order to gain insights about new ways of doing things.
Unlike observers, who intensely watch the world, experimenters construct interactive experiences and try to provoke unorthodox responses to see what insights emerge. Innovative entrepreneurs engaged in active experimentation, whether it is intellectual exploration, physical tinkering, or engagement in new surroundings. As executives of innovative enterprises, they make experimentation central to everything they do. One of the most powerful experiments innovators can engage in is living and working overseas. HBR research revealed that the more countries a person has lived in, the more likely he or she is to leverage that experience to deliver innovative products, processes, or businesses.
Devoting time and energy to finding and testing ideas through a network of diverse individuals gives innovators a radically different perspective. Unlike most executives—who network to access resources, to sell themselves or their companies, or to boost their careers—innovative entrepreneurs go out of their way to meet people with different kinds of ideas and perspectives to extend their own knowledge domains.